July 21, 2013

A strange and challenging microclimate

I enjoy experimenting with microclimates, but it can get expensive. Years ago, when our family purchased this property, most of it was tastefully and naturally landscaped. It didn't take a lot of effort to settle into this house and garden--actually, the garden is what sold me on this place.

But, thankfully, there were a few garden "rooms" that required a little attention--giving me a chance to add my own touch. One of them is difficult to describe ... but I'll try:

It's an internal corner plot, under an eave, facing south and west. It's shaded from the sun entirely in the morning, it gets dappled shade/sun during the midday, and then the hot afternoon sun bakes it from about 2 p.m. to sunset. Being under the eave, it gets very little rainfall--mostly from the wind blowing precipitation into the little corner. The front of the plot is bordered by low-growing Forsythia shrubs, whose future is questionable (that's another post).

My first attempts at planting in this corner were completely unsuccessful. I can't even remember all the plants I tried. Then I tried some Daylilies, and they did quite well--at least the ones that weren't entirely under the eave.

About two months ago, I decided to experiment a little more. Anything planted directly in the ground was destined to fail, for lack of precipitation and sun--because the area would be shaded by the Lilies and the Forsythias.

Finally, I had a light-bulb moment! How about trying succulents in pots? I told the fishman about my plan, and he found me three matching clay pots of varying heights. All three had small holes in the bottom, and I added rocks; then filled the pots with a mixture of soil, sand, and perlite, to ensure adequate drainage.

I purchased several plants, and I was incredibly excited to have my very first succulent garden! (I've grown various Sedums over the years--but never a garden devoted entirely to mixed succulents.)

Of course, as with most first attempts, this garden was not entirely successful. Most of the plants survived, but two are now mere memories: Armeria maritima and Sempervivum 'Skirockii.' Of course, I don't know for sure, but I think the Armeria might have died for lack of consistent sunshine. And here's the problem with the Sempervivum:

damage
See the holes in the leaves?

damage2
Who was digging in this pot?

Yes, you are correct: chipmunks! They were digging in the pots and chewing on the plants! For such cute little critters, they can inflict a lot of plant damage! I tried hot Pepper repellent and Garlic--both of which seemed to attract the nasty little cuties even more.

toad
Time to scare away those pesky chipmunks!

This motion-activated croaking toad was a cute addition to the garden. But he can't get wet and must be removed from the garden during a heavy downpour (we've had a few of those this summer).

The only thing that seemed to keep the chippers away longer than a few hours was crushed Marigold flowers and seeds--sprinkled among the plants. But that was only a temporary fix.

Then I thought, how about adding some Cacti? Wouldn't the prickly spines discourage digging? I knew some Cacti are native here, and I watched a video program about how other species are cold-hardy and can survive our winters. Perfect for outdoor potted plants!

So, I ordered two Hedgehog Cacti, Brittle Prickly Pears, and (believe it or not!) an Agave, from Cold Hardy Cactus:

echinocereus
Echinocereus caespitosus

escobaria
Escobaria missouriensis

opuntia
Opuntia fragilis 'Black Cat'

agave
Agave utahensis v. Kaibabensis

They've joined the other plants that seem to be thriving now, despite a little damage from Alvin, Theodore, and Simon Chipmunk.

xenox
Sedum 'Xenox'

spurium
Sedum spurium 'Fire Glow'

sempervivum
Sempervivum 'Red Beauty'

kamtschaticum
Sedum 'Kamtschaticum'

angelina
Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

I'll keep you posted; fingers crossed. Perhaps I've found a good solution to this strange and challenging microclimate? I might even try to plant the seeds from the now defunct S. 'Skirockii.'

skirockii
Sempervivum 'Skirockii' -- sadly blooming before its demise.

Maybe it will live, through its "offspring," to see another day.

28 comments:

  1. Well, for nce your garden (thanks t the microclimate) looks exactly enay in my area!! cacti and succulents, that seems to be the best planting here. I enjoy it in your environment but I need more flowers and climbers and green stuff to balance the sometimes very arid conditions here. Dick Handscomb, a very keen garden designer in Spain, always lectures about learnign how to "play" with microclimates, even in your own garden, you seemed to have found a good solution, good luck!

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    1. I agree. I like a mix--as much as possible. I love the idea of "playing" with microclimates! There are so many in my garden! Thanks--I hope this will work. To be continued...

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  2. Fantastic sharp and pointy plants! I hope it works Beth, those chippers are destructive. They do the most damage in my garden....especially digging up crocus and rummaging in containers. gail

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    1. Thanks--they certainly are! I've never had much trouble with them before, but they seem to be causing more trouble during the past couple of years. Maybe I should catch and release. But they are so darned cute, and they don't totally destroy plants like the rabbits do. So, I'm trying to live peacefully with them. My patience is waning a bit, though. ;-)

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  3. What a great idea, Beth! I have several containers planted under eaves, but I have the usual annuals in them--meaning they need constant watering, even when we get rain. I love your different varieties of sedum, and agave is a favorite of mine. I'm not as much of a fan of cacti, but such a clever addition--Alvin, Simon, and Theodore will surely think twice about raiding this pot again:)

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    1. Yes, constantly watering seems unnecessary--especially with all the rain we've had lately. Plus, the spot is a little tough to reach for watering. So, I hope this solution works for that little microclimate. I'll keep you posted. The Chipmunks don't seem to be digging near the Cacti, so that's a good sign!

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  4. Here, the hawks or city cats get the chipmunks, so no real damage ever from chipmunks. I think they are so cute and had one as a resident once. Sadly a hawk took Chipper away. I work a lot with micro climates in my garden due to all the masonry and stone. I love having one a bit warmer than my neighbors, but I agree with you, they are less reliable making plant selection tricky.

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    1. Nice--you are fortunate! We have a few hawks and owls, and even some foxes and coyotes, but not enough to keep the chipmunk and rabbit populations in check. Yes, microclimates are tricky, but oh, so fun!

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  5. We like chippers too but they are also food for others so we rarely see them...what a fantastic idea...will you bring the pots in Beth during winter?

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    1. You are fortunate. Chipmunks are all too common in our suburban garden. And they tend to hang out near the house, away from the woods--where more of the predators reside. I think I'm going to simply cover the pots with burlap, or bring them onto the screen porch during the winter. Those were some of the recommendations from others. I'm still researching that topic, though. Your advice?

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  6. It looks to me as if you have solved your garden dilemma. You have quite the assortment of sedums already that I feel I must warn you of their addictiveness:)

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    1. We shall see, Patty. ;-) Hopefully, some of the succulents will make it through the rest of the summer, and then the winter. At that point, I'll reassess the plan. I can see why they are addictive!

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  7. Don't talk to me about chipmunks - or, as I like to call them, Alvin the Terrible - they are a pestilence! Nice job with the succulents, though. Another good plant for really tough spots it Snowberry, a low shrub. Ever try it?

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    1. Ha! Actually, I'm more willing to live in peace with chipmunks than with rabbits. The chipmunks merely bite and dig. But the rabbits eat the plants down to the ground. They are not my friends. Still, over the years, I've learned how to repel rabbits, too. There are plenty of plants in the world that rabbits don't like! Take that, Peter Cottontail!

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  8. Can we see a picture of how the whole area looks now? I have a spot like this and was thinking of trying succulent pots, so I'd like to see how you did it, and how it looks with the existing planting.

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    1. Hi Lyn: Here's a side view of the three pots: succulent garden. Here's one from the top: top view where you can see the Daylilies and Hostas, and the Forsythia bushes are in front of them to the left. I'll try to get a shot from the front to show on a future post.

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  9. hi Beth, it's fascinating to read your process of thinking, forming hypotheses, trying them out, etc. When I read about your idea to plant prickly succulents to repel chipmunks, I wondered if that is how hedgehogs evolved, and whether you will be held responsible for the evolution of prickly chipmunks in the distant future?

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    1. Ha! You gave me a chuckle on that one! And it's truly a scary thought. I don't know why, after all the damage they've caused, I have a thing for chipmunks. Among all the crawling critters in my garden, they have to be the cutest.

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  10. That sounds like a really good solution for such a tricky space, nice bit of problem solving! The cacti combine really well with the succulents too, a mini desert landscape.

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    1. Hi Janet: I hope so. To be continued ... but so far, so good. Occasionally I see the chipmunks climbing atop the toad to take a look, but they don't seem to be digging or biting anymore. That is enough progress for now. :)

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  11. That's some sharp problem-solving with the cacti.

    I think the chipmunks will get the point.

    ;-)

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    1. I believe you are right. One scamper over those spiny Prickly Pears would be enough for me. ;-) They're still curious, but they don't seem to be causing damage like they did before.

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  12. Bit sad of me - I was hoping to see photos of said chipmunks, but then that would mean they were in the garden again, probably up to mischief !!

    Love the alternative planting... but it is the croaking frog which gets my vote ! I want one !!

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    1. Yeah, I probably should have tried to grab a photo of the chippers, but I was running out of time, and I'm abysmal at capturing moving objects. They are cute little buggers, though. Isn't the toad cute, too? Here's a link to order it or similar ones: croaking toads. This isn't a sponsored link; I seriously searched for it and found it at Amazon.

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  13. Indeed, I think you have found the solution. I love the way a microclimate challenges one to get creative. And with the myriad choices among sedums and cactuses, the possibilities – and designs – are unlimited. Moreover, they are a way of xeriscaping.

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    1. Hi Lee: We're still having a few issues with chipmunks, but otherwise it seems to be working. I added seashells to the rocks, which seems to be repelling the chipmunks. I might have to give up on the Sempervivums, because the little critters seem to like to dig them out! Or maybe I'll put a wire barrier around the pot. Crazy chipmunks!

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  14. I have a hard time getting mad at any wildlife in my garden even tho I get bummed
    about casualties. I feel I'm invading their space so I plant then let the "chips" fall where they may. Luckily, not too much gets destroyed. I think you've hit upon a great solution to this area. I hope it works!!!

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    1. You're more patient than I am. Sometimes I laugh at myself because I favor plants over animals (not always, but sometimes). But I'm finding ways to live as peacefully as possible with the varmints. ;-)

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